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The Life (and Death?) of Corporate Waste


Harwell Wells


December 7, 2017

At first glance, corporate waste makes no sense. The very definition of waste—a transaction so one-sided that no reasonable business person would enter into it, an act equivalent to gift or “spoliation”—suggests that it would never occur, for what corporation would ever enter into a transaction so absurd? Yet waste claims are regularly made against corporate managers. Respected judges have downplayed waste as a “vestige” and described it as “possibly non-existent,” the Loch Ness monster of corporate law; but waste survives. It is a remnant of ultra vires, a doctrine proclaimed largely dead for the last hundred years—but waste is not dead. It confounds our model of managerial responsibility; after decades in which corporate directors’ and officers’ duties have been focused into the fiduciary duties of care and loyalty, waste sits outside that framework, for historically waste isn’t a fiduciary duty at all. This Article, the first modern survey of the corporate waste doctrine, discusses the origin of corporate waste, documents and explains its survival, and tentatively foresees its demise.